Opinion: Md. Retailers Chief Doubts Legislation Will Solve Teen Smoking

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This is in response to a recent commentary by Sen. Mary Washington and Del. Jazz Lewis [“Time to End the Sale of Flavored Tobacco in Maryland,” Maryland Matters, Jan. 12]. While the lawmakers’ intent is honorable, this commentary doesn’t consider several critically important factors.

We all agree that young people should not be using tobacco. The retail merchants across our state are gatekeepers and take their role of checking IDs and refusing underage patrons from purchasing tobacco products very seriously. Their reputations and business licenses depend on their adherence to the retail regulations both at the state and federal level.

If you strip retailers of the ability to sell flavored tobacco, it will continue to be sold online and, on the street, only lining the pockets of the illicit-market hustlers who will sell to anyone they can.

Additionally, many consumers will still be able to travel a few minutes into a neighboring state to buy what they want and taking their ancillary purchases out of the state as well. Unlike the cash registers of the mom-and-pop stores and the state coffers, the criminal market for flavored tobacco will flourish as law enforcement becomes saddled with a heavier burden.

Numerous credible studies show teen smoking is at the lowest historical levels. Why now, with a critically depressed economy, would lawmakers choose to suffocate responsible merchants’ already damaged businesses?

Lawmakers would be siphoning tax dollars to criminals selling tobacco products illegally. That’s sales tax revenue that should be used to reinforce vital stimulus rescue funding.

Small businesses, the people they employ and the communities they serve are all hurting due to the pandemic and economic crisis. And even though they are deemed essential businesses during this pandemic, many are struggling to keep their heads above water.

Adding burdensome overreaching legislation doesn’t solve teen smoking. And legislators need to understand their move would pull one more pillar from the small business community’s currently shaky foundation.

For some small business owners, this may be the toppling move.

— CAILEY LOCKLAIR

The writer is president of the Maryland Retailers Association and the Maryland Association of Chain Drug Stores.